Andrea Arnold is a director firmly anchored in the social realist tradition of British cinema. She set the story of her first two films in a rundown inner city environment, painting a portrait of deprivation in a naturalistic style that connected intimately with her characters.
Red Road (2006) and Fish Tank (2009) both demonstrated the ability of the film-maker, who uses an “instinctive” shooting style to communicate the chaos surrounding those who have been scorched by life.
Intrigued by an article she read in the New York Times, after Wuthering Heights (2012) Andrea Arnold set off on a trip of several weeks across America’s mid-western and southern states, in the wake of a young door-to-door sales team. She discovered a life of everyday partying, sex and drugs.
“I like chaos, precisely because it brings you alive.”
The preparation for American Honey also took her to the beaches of Panama, to regions eaten away by poverty where the systematic consumption of drugs and alcohol rots both mind and body. There she filmed live interviews with young no-hopers totally marginalised by society.
As in Fish Tank, the lead actress in the film, Sasha Lane - playing opposite Shia Labeouf no less - was selected virtually at random, spotted by the director in a Texan restaurant where she was working as a waitress.
The movie, halfway between a documentary and a feature film, also puts its trust in a cast of mostly non-professional actors, wild kids encountered on the road.
The director, whose work is driven essentially by feeling, says that once again she operated without rehearsals or story boards to heighten her emotional connection with her story.